November 19, 2013

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viola1ImprovFriday was particularly fun yesterday and very busy. A big welcome to Vanessa Rossetto, who provided a beautifully aching improvasition for viola.  Not in the romantic sense, but as if she were deconstructing the viola and every so often we hear the instrument speak one sentence, perhaps explaining the meaning for its existence.

Special thanks to James Ross who came up with no less than three improvs yesterday. The first two were mellow guitar improvs: Zhongruan improvs#1 and Zhongruan #2, recorded on the balcony of the hotel James was vacationing at while in the Jamaican countryside last week. The third was The Birds of Hell: James described the improv as “some chaotic lunacy,” and he was right on in my opinion. Very cool tune. Alun Vaughan brought us one of the smoothest improvs I have heard in awhile called “The Caves,” bass + eBow + reverb is how Alun described it. Listen to it, amazing improv and technically flawless. Jeff Harrington played a possessed improv that displays his brushing up of late on the keyboard with “Noise Dance Improvisation,” in which he described as “a chaotic, cycling, monophonic machine spinning out of control.” Steve Moyes played a looped electric guitar improv called “ Loop of the Day.” It starts out with blips and bleeps, adds a dash (or strong dose) of electronic buzzing + a cup or two of charismatic guitar solo and licks and skillfully blends it all together. Charles Turner made me laugh with the description of his 2-Minute Improv. “Sometimes these things don’t turn out so well,” Charles explained. Quirky, imaginative and somber is how I would describe it.  Jukka-Pekka Kervinen Improv #12 For Five Instruments is an assortment of improvs all at once!  A real delight.  That closes out all the solo improvisations.  Phew!

Now onto the collaborative improvisations, a new function of ImprovFriday. Lee Noyes mentioned we should give it a go over at the ImprovFriday Group in the style of Cadavre Esquis, a group headed by Phil Hargreaves. The idea is to place a “seed” consisting of a sonic bare idea for anyone to download and add onto. This musical improv game has an interesting history. Translated to English the name means exquisite corpse and dates back to the surrealists (1918) to John Cage and Lou Harrison and so on. I have a little experience myself with Leif Jordansson’s group called “Open Source Composition.”

Lee realized that my improv, The Hypnotic Ice Ant, from last week was minimal enough to work as a seed and added onto it with two versions titled simply, “Ice Ant #1 and Ice Ant #2.” Lee added percussion to #1 and piano to #2. Greg Hooper added guitar to #1. At the same time Steve Layton added to #1 as well. Paul Hertz made a trippy mix of both. I have pretty good taste and don’t casually use the term Amaranth, but I’d say the final versions fit that description and are indeed treasures.

An ordered list of the final versions:

Ice Ant #1 by JC Combs, Lee Noyes, Steve Layton

Ice Ant #1 by JC Combs, Lee Noyes, Steve Layton, Greg Hooper

Ice Ant #1 by JC Combs, Lee Noyes, Greg Hooper

Ice Ant #1 Mix by JC Combs, Lee Noyes, Greg Hooper, Paul Hertz

Ice Ant #2 by JC Combs, Lee Noyes

The Ice Ant #1 Mix Screen Shot taken by Paul Hertz


An Incidental Lucid Moment

August 15, 2008

Third work for “Bats in the Belfry,” a collection of miniatures, is finished up. Have a listen here.

I initially planned to work on the Mars Webben’s work, but one thing led to another and you know the rest….

2nd of Bats in the Belfry finished up and I admit, I’m tired…. If you’re curious you can hear it over at my Myspace.


July 3, 2008

We Are All Amaranth

Link:  Caroline M. Breece

Readers, check out composer Caroline M. Breece whom I myself recently discovered.  If you are ready for a journey into sounds, the music of Caroline M. Breece is right up your alley; and sometimes that alley is dark.  My personal favorite thus far is the “Metachromasia” series.   

From her website bio: 

As regards to my music, I find there is something so fascinating about sound. And thats what I love exploring when I compose. I dont really think in terms of development and form and such within pieces, I think more in terms of pure sonics. And one of the things I find most exciting about living today is that there are so many options for combinations of sounds, acoustic instruments, electronically generated sounds, acoustic sounds treated electronically, field recordings, anything that can be heard can be used and I love that freedom and almost bottomless depths of possible exploration.” -bio excerpt

Seeking Raw, Seeking

June 6, 2008

Sounds.  I am currently exploring free VSTs littered in the web.  My master plan is to find raw and clean sounds to make yes, yes, MORE WEIRD MUSIC!! 

I was almost there yesterday, but it turned out “Crystal” is just too hard to deal with.  She clips and distorts, way too much maintenance.  I might revisit the work once I get the nasty memory of going through artistic motions and ending up playing “sound engineer” for five hours. 

Back to it.  I tell you, as soon as I find this raw sound, I am ready to put down some music, and FAST!


This is pretty cool.  Call me James if you prefer.  I am in the middle of a work that I intend on finishing shortly, tonight even.  I hope this new work will hit you on  the head, like a tuning fork. 

If you haven’t, here is a little introduction and even better, an interview below. 

Links:  James Ross Myspace Page 1 and Page 2

I had a nice conversation with James Ross the other day.  He is a contemporary Amaranth composer out of Brooklyn, N.Y.  A guitarist and music teacher, but unique in the sense that he is far and away from guitar composing-wise the couple years I have been a fan of his and is focused on sounds, sonic art, etc.  Initially, when moving into soundscapes he started out with a work simply titled, “Winds and Strings.” Truly a study of sound waves.  I visit his site often to listen to that work, which is ambience at its best.  I have mentioned to James that the ambience is Beethovenesque to my ear at times.   

Over the last year or so he has followed in that vein and moved into field recording.  “Brick Saw” is a collaboration with Night Germ (a.k.a. Stefan Graham). The work employs the sound of a brick saw, which in turn is twisted and probed sonically in almost every conceivable aspect. 

His latest work is called “Heaven” and he talks about it below. 

I highly recommend purchasing every work of James Ross as they are shining, radiant and luminescent wise tales understood best by centering your senses to let the music move you into the composers’ soundscape.  

Combs:  I really dig your works with sound, the compositions. How would you describe them?

Ross:  Well, I use a lot of sustained tones and repetitions. I just like to display sounds so that a listener can really hear them–study them almost. Sounds are valuable. I don’t like to toss them around like pennies. I guess most of my pieces are attempts to showcase sounds.

Combs:  What got you in to composition?

Ross:  Besides the money? I’ve always been in awe of composers. They are the ones who actually make all that music–bring it into being from nothing. They are the unique ones. There are lots of pianists who play, say, Debussy, and make it sound great. But there was only one Debussy. At any rate, I’ve always wanted to be the one who creates those worlds that players and listeners delve into. But I’m relatively new to composition. Only been at it a few years. I have a lot to learn. Almost everything, really.

Combs:  Who are your major influences.

Ross:  Too many. Fripp, Eno, Glass, Cage, Feldman, John Fahey, La Monte Young, the New York City Transit system …

Combs:  You recently visited China. Has that trip influenced you in any way?

Ross:  I was there to visit my wife’s family. They are mostly in Sichuan province. It was such a beautiful and fascinating place. So sad what has happened there. Our friends and family there are all fine, fortunately, but what a tragedy for so many people.

You can’t help but be affected by a trip to a place like that. So much history. But probably the most immediate influence is coming from a plucked-string instrument called a zhongruan, which I bought while we were there. It has four strings, a two-octave fretboard, a wide, round body, and is usually played with a plectrum. Its origins are ancient–more than 2000 years old. It originally had silk strings, which would have given it a soft, delicate voice, I imagine. But over the centuries the instrument has been modified–“reformed” is the word some Chinese music scholars use, I believe–so now it’s rather guitar-like with metal strings and metal frets. I love the sounds. Kind of primitive, gamey. But penetrating, percussive and, in quiet playing, very soulful and deep. I’ve been doing some practicing and composing for it. The sound is in my ear and it will probably show up in some future pieces.

Combs:  I’ve heard that you ran into someone at a party, a composer, and were speechless. Who was that and what happened?

Ross:  You’re talking about my non-fateful meeting with John Cage. It wasn’t at a party, though. He was giving a lecture at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh in the early 1980s. (I’m originally from southwestern Pennsylvania.) The talk was just Cage standing in front of the room reading from his book “Silence” in an incredibly even, detached tone of voice. I remember it was a very calming experience. After, people were hanging out talking with him, and I just couldn’t speak. But at the time I was only 18 or 19, and I felt quite intimidated. I was certain I didn’t really have anything intelligent to say or to ask him so I just kept my mouth shut. I’m still not sure what I would ask him if he were around today and I had another chance.

Combs:  Tell us what we can look forward to from you over the coming months.

Ross:  Just finished a long dronal/ambient piece called “Heaven.” It consists of clips of the sound of ringing pot lids that have been transposed to various pitch levels and layered together. The transpositions explore a series of modulations in seven-limit just intonation. Some excerpts are at my MySpace page (myspace. com/jrossdrone). Also, planning to finish a series of pieces I started last year called “Island of the Dead.” It’s more music based on the sounds of the pot lids mentioned above. Only with these pieces, I derived a tuning from the inharmonic tones produced by the lids, and used the tones to compose for other instruments, voices, etc. Includes prepared guitar and drumming on some old milk cans. I plan to release the recordings privately. There are also the zhongruan pieces–I have a couple of those under way. I guess that’s more than enough.

Wake, Reality

May 30, 2008

The world is overburdened with rich, greedy humans.  They spawn and grow. 

The world is overburdened with poor, naive humans.  They spawn and grow.

The world is kept with adversity, to squelch and smite to whom who is not born unto sacred, golden pastures of gliding, glowing poseurs filling the empty spaces.